The Epistle of Forgiveness

Volume Two: Hypocrites, Heretics, and Other Sinners

Gregor Schoeler
Geert Jan Van Gelder
Abu l-Ala al-Maarri

NYU Press (publisher)

One of the
most unusual books in classical Arabic literature, The Epistle of Forgiveness is the lengthy reply by the prolific
Syrian poet and prose writer, Abu l-ʿAlaʿ al-Maʿarri (d. 449 H/1057 AD), to a
letter by an obscure grammarian, Ibn al-Qarih. With biting irony, The Epistle of Forgiveness mocks Ibn
al-Qarih’s hypocrisy and sycophancy by imagining he has died and arrived with
some difficulty in Heaven, where he meets famous poets and philologists from
the past. He also glimpses Hell, and converses with the Devil and various
heretics. Al-Maʿarri—a maverick, a vegan, and often branded a heretic
himself—seems to mock popular ideas about the Hereafter.

 
This second volume is a point-by-point reply to Ibn
al-Qarih’s letter using al-Maʿarri’s characteristic mixture of erudition,
irony, and admonition, enlivened with anecdotes and poems. Among other things,
he writes about hypocrites; heretical poets, princes, rebels, and mystics;
apostates; piety; superstition; the plight of men of letters; collaborative
authorship; wine-drinking; old age; repentance; pre-Islamic pilgrimage customs;
and money. This remarkable book is the first complete translation in any
language, all the more impressive because of al-Maʿarri’s highly ornate and
difficult style, his use of rhymed prose, and numerous obscure words and
expressions.

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